Gratitude and generosity are traits most parents would like to see instilled in their children. As a mom and pediatrician, Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says teaching kids to be both grateful and generous can also make them healthier.
“When you show gratitude, the chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy actually rise,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “So, there’s scientific evidence that gratitude can actually enhance your health and wellness.”
An emerging field of research on gratitude in kids finds there are physical and emotional benefits when children make a conscious effort to focus on why they are thankful. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that gratitude is linked to happiness in children by age 5. Several other studies have found that kids who showed high levels of gratitude reported having stronger grades, less depression and a more positive outlook.
Here are three ways parents can help instill gratitude in their children:
- Lead by example. Teaching generosity to kids is best accomplished by parents who model the behavior. Babies and toddlers are hard-wired to mimic others, so show them how to share toys and be attentive to others. Smile and praise your child when you see him or her sharing or nurturing others; praise will reinforce those pathways in their brain.
- Encourage your kids to perform acts of kindness. For school-age children, teach generosity by participating as a family in community projects and giving to others. Write thank you letters to first responders, gather and deliver clothing donations to a local charity, or donate food to the local food bank. Teens and young adults can do even more, such as mowing lawns for elderly neighbors, volunteering, or occasionally donating their time to babysit instead of expecting payment. Talk with your kids about ways they would like to be a positive impact on their school, neighborhood and community.
- Establish a family gratitude ritual. Make time each day to focus on the blessings in your life.
Dr. Bradshaw says, “Try doing a gratitude circle at the dinner table where everyone goes around and talks about one thing that happened during their day that they’re thankful for. You can also practice journaling grateful thoughts with your kids at bedtime. That’s a great way to end the day on a positive note and prepare your brain for a good night’s sleep.”
There will of course be times when your kids seem to be ungrateful. This doesn’t mean your efforts have failed; it’s normal for kids to occasionally express entitlement. Try turning these times into teachable moments. Making the effort to consistently teach kids to be thankful, and to serve and give to others, builds character and empathy over time.
Acknowledge your child’s kindness
When your child shows generosity, be sure to recognize and acknowledge their actions. By doing so, you will strengthen that behavior and it will become how they naturally treat others.
“Even though this has been another fairly challenging year for a lot of families, if you can show your child how to look for large or small things to be grateful for, and to think of ways they can do good things for other people, that is a wonderful way to help children grow into kind and compassionate adults,” Dr. Bradshaw says.